Located between the stomach and backbone, and approximately six inches long, the pancreas is an organ that makes enzyme-containing juices that help the body break down food. The juices flow through a system of ducts to the main pancreatic duct and on to the small intestine.
Wide on one end and narrow on the other, the pancreas is surrounded by the liver, intestine and other organs.
The pancreas is also a gland that makes insulin and other hormones. These hormones enter the bloodstream and travel throughout the body. They help the body use or store the energy that comes from food. For example, insulin helps control the amount of sugar in the blood.
In a healthy pancreas, normal cells grow and divide to form new cells that replace those that grow old, get damaged or die. Sometimes, though, this process goes wrong and new cells form when the body does not need them - or old or damaged cells do not die as they should. These extra cells can form a mass of tissue called a growth or tumor.
Growths in the pancreas can be benign or malignant. Benign growths are not cancer. They can be removed, are rarely a threat to life and do not grow back. They also do not invade the tissues around them and do not spread to other parts of the body.
Malignant growths, however, are cancer. They may be a threat to life and cannot always be removed. If they are removed, they can grow back. They also can invade and damage nearby tissues and organs such as the stomach or intestine and can spread to other parts of the body.